Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I've written before about the peculiar dry status of Navy ships. This post is about the use of alcohol away from the ships.

Decades ago, it was considered almost an indicator of how good a time a sailor or naval officer had ashore if he came back to the ship knee-knocking,puke-stained drunk.A certain amount of rowdiness was expected from drunken sailors (officers, even if drunk, were expected to maintain some decorum). "He got blasted like a real sailor" was one way to put it. I saw sailors come back so drunk that they were lashed, face-down, into Stokes litters, which were then secured into the overhead near the Quarterdeck, so that the Petty Officer and Messenger of the Watch could keep an eye on them.

The sailor who was the Duty Corpsman in a liberty port could pretty much expect to get no sleep. If the ship was anchored out (using boats to send liberty parties to and from the beach), it would not be unusual to have at least one clown break a limb during a port visit from falling down the accommodation ladder from the main deck to the boat.

Things started to change in the latter half of the 1970s. Drunken sailors ashore in foreign ports-of-call were creating incidents that the State Department was getting tired of having to smooth over. In some ports, the local cops took a very dim view of drunken shenanigans and some sailors would up being extended guests of the local criminal justice systems.

The word went out: Crack down. Ships who had reportable incidents would end up having liberty for sailors and shore leave for officers curtailed. No ship captain wanted to be told by the group commander or the fleet commander that the entire ship was on "cinderella liberty" (everyone had to be back aboard by midnight).

The next crackdown was on drunken driving. But first, a little bit of a discourse on procedure:

Whenever there was a serious accident or death, two parallel investigations were commenced. One was a safety investigation to find out what happened and what could be learned from it. The other was a "JAGMAN" investigation, usually conducted by a line officer and conducted in accordance with the Manual of the Judge Advocate General (hence the name). JAGMAN investigations were more concerned with fixing responsibility so that appropriate disciplinary action could be taken.[1]

The two investigators (or teams) did not talk to each other, though both often reported the results of their investigation to the same convening authority. Theoretically, not cooperating with the safety investigation was a chargeable offense, there was no right to remain silent. (One did have rights when interviewed for the JAGMAN investigation.) In the event of an accident, there were three findings that determined benefits: In the line of duty; not in the line of duty and not due to one's own misconduct; and not in the line of duty, due to one's own misconduct.

The fixes were these: First, it was decreed that any Commanding Officer, Executive Officer or Command Master Chief who was charged with DWI would be immediately relieved of their jobs. That effectively meant the end of one's career.

The second "fix" was if someone was injured or killed in a drunk driving accident because that person had been drinking, a finding of "not in the line of duty, due to one's own misconduct" was to be entered. The impact of that was that the Navy could go after the injured sailor to recover the costs of treating him. If the sailor was killed while driving drunk then the finding would mean no survivor's pension from the Navy.

There were also moves to de-emphasize the serving of liquor at Navy clubs, but I don't know how effective those were. Alcohol was a serious profit center for the clubs and no doubt the clubs fought back.

But regardless, the day of heavy intoxication being accepted was drawing to a close.

[1] The investigation of a death in which criminal charges would be brought was normally performed by local law enforcement or the Naval Investigative Service (when they could be freed up from their usual duties of investigating the break-ins of ship's stores or busting druggies and gays).


PhysioProf said...

Interesting that the stereotype of endless drunken Navy shenanigans persists in light of these relatively strict policies.

Ruckus said...

Again from personal experience I'd say that one of the reasons for the drinking was taking young people maybe away from home for the first time and putting them in situations that drinking was one of the few releases. And one they could afford. Clubs both on and off base catered to people without much money and not a lot else to do. It doesn't sound like that has changed a lot but maybe actually not looking the other way and therefore condoning the behavior will/has help/ed.